How often have some of us quoted the lines, “Main aur meri tanhai aksar baatein kiya karte hai” (my loneliness and I often talk to each other) and “Kabhi-kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai” (sometimes, my heart thinks these thoughts)…they encapsulated the cinema of Yash Chopra and of many of our own lost and found memories.
He has been called the King of Romance, and perhaps rightly so, but I’d not limit him to that. There are two ways of seeing a movie – the way in which it is projected and the emotional chord that touches us. I do like the sight of large expanses of tulips and love expressed in song right in the middle of these flowers, but it is in the tight close-ups, the speaking eyes, the quivering lips, the short lines and longer monologues that we may find something more to relate to.
Yash Chopra was most certainly not making candyfloss, and I am not saying so because he is no more. I cannot think of a single weak woman in any of his directorial ventures. Even in Deewaar, made famous also by that one line “Mere paas ma hai” in the conflict between the two brothers, between good and evil, it is so obvious that the mother figure had nurtured the good. The son was not making the choice; she had made him capable enough to have her close to him. And in the death scene, when the bad son lies in her lap, he does not need any god. His retribution is complete.
It also quite blatantly showed a non-traditional woman, despite smoking and living with the man, as someone in control of her life. There did not appear to be any judgement passed on her, nor did it look like the guy was doing her a favour and making a good woman of her.
In Kabhi Kabhi too there was the ‘other’ man/woman. Imagine a situation where a woman on her wedding night sings a song based on the poetry of the man she was in love with. Here was readymade material for a tear-jerker. Instead, she chooses to move on and build a beautiful and happy life. The man, now the other, also happens to be the other to his own wife, who when taunted with her past (and a daughter from that relationship), chooses to confront him about his double standards and makes ready to leave rather than live with the hypocrisy.
In Trishool, the ‘encounter’ scene between father and abandoned son relied on just one truly cutting sentence, when the younger man tells the older one, “Aap mere najaaiz baap ho" (You are my illegitimate father).
Yash Chopra did deal with 'irregular' relationships within the ambit of mainstream cinema. That is why it was difficult to hail him for these qualities and instead many chose to stick to the romantic genre, which can actually mean so many things.
Take Daag. Much of the film was relegated to the indoors, in the dark. A man with two wives, reuniting with his old love and having to stealthily convey it, “Mere dil mein aaj kya hai, tu kahe tau main bataa doon, teri zulf phir sawaroon, teri maang phir sajaa doon…mujhe devta banaakar teri chaahaton ne pooja, mera pyaar keh raha hai main tujhe khuda bana doon”. Trapped in circumstances, all he can do is ask her if she will permit him to express his feelings. The stream of worship-godliness is woven into this narrative.
With Lamhe, he broke so many shackles. A girl falls in love with the man who was in love with her mother. Of course, she does not know it, and her mother did not know about his feelings either, since she was in love with someone else who she married. Here too, the young woman is strong-willed, expressive and even when she discovers the truth, she makes him realise that he loved an idea, a thought. Those moments – lamhe – were lost.
I find it strange that this is seen as the Elektra Complex (in fact, it is mistakenly referred to as the Oedipal Complex). Freud is a good way to study anything, but the girl grows up without even seeing the man, who is her guardian. She is also in love with an idea, expressed with birthday gifts that she leaves unopened. It is that heartbeat of meeting him when she is old enough and sees a man, a male, who she first had a vague idea about and who became real enough to fantasise about.
Yash Chopra’s last film as director was Veer Zaara. It is perhaps one of the finest ‘messages’ in terms of communalism, Indo-Pak relationship, prisoners (real and caged by love), and nostalgia. However, he did not stop at the pining. He gave it a fitting ending. Yes, I did wonder why the Pakistani woman came to India and lived her life as she would if she had married him. The answer lies in every moment he spends in chains behind the prison walls, incarcerated without trial, aware that he was protecting her honour. This sounded old world, to an extent even regressive. How important is such honour? But this was early years after Partition; it had to do with families, reputations. It had to do with love that had to be silenced.
Greying, but still running about and active, she does not regret the life she chose. She built a new life, without any monument, without fanfare. We know of it only towards the end when he is free, aided by a strong and empathetic woman lawyer. We know if it when he holds up one of her anklets from those many years ago, not as shiny anymore, that he had kept as remembrance.
“Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon
Pal do pal meri kahaani hai
Pal do pal meri hasti hai
Pal do pal meri jawaani hai.”
Sahir Ludhianvi conveyed this best in the Kabhi Kabhi song - My poetry, my life, my identity, my youth are but for a moment or two…only those who create lasting impressions understand the value of such evanescence.
PS: I have not named the characters deliberately, for as I implied in the beginning it could be you, it could be me.